The word respect has been consuming my thoughts recently. For Father’s Day, dads from around the country explained that respecting one’s spouse is the single most important piece of advice they would give a young dad entering the parenting odyssey. I could not agree more.
In light of the recent mistrial of one of America’s most respected dads – Bill Cosby – the basic definition of respect needs to be discussed.
According to the Mirriam-Webster Dictionary, the definition of respect includes “to feel admiration for (someone or something).” It also states “to regard (someone or something) as being worthy of admiration because of good qualities.”
Certainly, we respect people because of their achievements. Benevolent politicians (well, I assume there are some out there). Ridiculously talented actors (Meryl Streep). Fabulous newscasters (I’m looking at you, Lester Holt). These professionals deserve our respect for their hard work and positive influence. Specifically, who didn’t adore America’s Favorite Dad? We respected the funny, kind, affable Bill Cosby and the make-believe man he portrayed. Bill O’Reilly wrote some of my favorite historical books. People look up to Trump for his business savvy.
However, their personal decisions leave one perplexed…
Respect: It’s how you act
Respect is also defined as “to act in a way which shows that you are aware of (someone’s rights, wishes, etc.)” and “to treat or deal with (something that is good or valuable) in a proper way.”
Did these men abuse their status by disrespecting others? Certainly, we all make mistakes. However, all three men have been accused of repeated sexual assault or sexual intimidation, and two admitted it: Trump. Cosby. O’Reilly. Sadly, incriminations of their exploits have been simmering for years and years. The survivors were silenced for a variety of reasons, one of which was credibility – who would believe that these well-respected men would do such a thing? Especially relevant, when their collective voices were loud enough to become a roar, even 60 thunderous voices in Cosby’s case, they were dismissed. The private actions of Trump, Cosby, O’Reilly, and others, disrupt our respect for them.
Fiction v Fact
When the allegations of Cosby’s sexual assaults came to light, the country felt a collective sense of disappointment. Many supporters of Cosby continue to view him as Dr. Huxtable and offer ongoing support for the invented TV dad. However, we cannot hold on to the ideal, fictional persona of the assailant after truths are revealed. It is important to hold even the most admired celebrities accountable for their actions.
Jennifer Cook states, “if we don’t know what’s happening behind closed doors then, of course, we just judge people on their merits and that’s totally fine. However, opinions can change once certain things come to light.”
Respected individuals who disrespect other’s “rights and wishes” while not “treating them in a good, valuable, or proper way,” make a mockery of the word respect. And this is a problem for those of us preaching to young people about the importance of respecting others. How can we teach our kids the meaning of respect, when our leaders have muddied the definition?
The nasty rhetoric that plays out in the headlines, social media, and television swirls around in our children’s impressionable minds. Leaders do not respect the opinions of professional peers and refuse to work together for the good of all. Yet in the classroom, we teach our children to work collaboratively and respect each person’s ideas. Leaders exclaim equality for women, yet women are excluded from the health bill conversation which ultimately decides their reproductive health fate. Mixed messages.
Other mixed messages:
- Electing someone to the presidency who admits to sexual assault.
- A man who coerced women into having sex in exchange for a career boost is awarded $25M.
- A verdict of a mistrial for a man accused of sexual assault by over 60 women and who admitted to drugging women for sexual gratification.
In fact, Cosby is now going on a “motivational speaking tour” about sexual assault. I’m not kidding.
Teach your children well
Children learn the meaning of respect from you, not just the media. What is the message they are absorbing from their observations?
Societal acceptance of sexual disrespect filters down to our everyday world. Sexual assault on campuses and teen dating violence are issues of importance. Are you concerned about these risks to your children? Talk to your children about the respected leaders who get off with a slap on the hand, astounding severance pay, or elected into an office in which he determines the laws of the land. Explain to your children that this is not acceptable behavior.
- It is not okay to disparage women.
- It is not okay to grab women by their genitals.
- It is not okay to drug women for sexual gratification.
- It is not okay to threaten women with career advancement in exchange for sexual favors.
- It is not okay to victim-blame women for their choice in clothing – the assailant chooses to attack. Period.
Discuss your family values with your children. Talk about respect with your children. Give examples, be the example.
Parents, especially male leaders, society is counting on you to define the importance of respect.